The TMB Harmonization Project is a collaborative initiative led by Friends of Cancer Research (Friends), whose goal is to better apply tumor mutational burden (TMB) for cancer treatment by standardizing the way it is measured. TMB measures the quantity of mutations found in a tumor and can serve as a useful biomarker that can predict how well a patient might respond to certain types of treatment. For example, a high measurement of TMB can indicate that a patient may be more likely to respond to certain immunotherapies. Therefore, many in oncology are excited about the potential of harnessing TMB as a useful tool, as long as it can be implemented correctly. TMB provides an opportunity to directly benefit patients by helping them receive the best possible treatment. There are thousands of cancer patients who could potentially receive life-saving treatment, and TMB is a tool that could help ensure they receive that care. Through this project, Friends hopes to improve how TMB is used by standardizing its measurement.
Aligning TMB is important because currently there are multiple ways to measure TMB that can yield different results. Directly measuring the mutations in the whole tumor genome is expensive and time-consuming, so different gene panels have been developed to estimate TMB from a smaller area of the genome.
"The consortium has brought together experts in the industry to help put together the right tools to align different diagnostic tests, which is critical to accurate reporting of TMB and patient care.” - Dr. Vincent Funari, NeoGenomics
However, these panels all measure TMB in different ways, so one panel’s TMB measurement might not mean the same as another panel’s measurement. Not knowing this difference could lead to inaccurate measurements that result in a patient receiving ineffective treatment. Misuse of TMB can be harmful toward patients, so it is critical that we use it correctly. In order for TMB to be most effectively implemented into cancer treatment, we have to understand what these different TMB estimates mean and how to harmonize them into a measurement we can all interpret.
This is the problem Friends identified, and what prompted us to launch the TMB Harmonization Project. The project sets out to establish a uniform approach to measuring and reporting TMB. Accomplishing this will allow TMB to be more consistently applied in determining cancer treatment options, improving patient outcomes. Harmonizing TMB has become a global effort as well, which is why Friends partnered with a similar study conducted by Quality in Pathology (QuIP) in Germany.
The crucial last phase of results of the TMB Harmonization Project is scheduled to be presented in July. Thus, we have created a TMB blog series, to provide background information on the project as a leadup to this meeting. Tune in next week to learn how the project came together and how researchers approached the unique problem of standardizing TMB results.